Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk

Will's Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk

Jane Sutcliffe
Illustrator:  John Shelley 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
Charlesbridge, 2016   ISBN: 978-1580896382

The author of this book started off planning to write a book about William Shakespeare and his work. She wanted to tell the story of a man who was “an absolute genius with words and wove those words into the most brilliant and moving plays ever written.” Then she encountered a problem. William Shakespeare’s words and phrases kept popping up everywhere in her narrative, and in the end she realized that she had to do two things in her book. She had to tell William Shakespeare’s story, and she had to show us how many of the words and phrases that we use today became popular because of Shakespeare’s writings.

London in 1606 was not for the faint of heart. It was a sickly, smelly, congested, crime-ridden place and many people took refuge from the vagaries of life in the city by going to plays. Every day of the week, except Sunday, a play was presented. Sometimes there was more than one performance each day. Approximately one in ten Londoners went to these plays, and the only time they didn’t do so was when there was “an outbreak of the plague.”

As an aside, the author tells us that the word outbreak was used in one of Shakespeare’s plays. Though the meaning has changed over time somewhat, it was used in Act 2, Scene 1 of Hamlet.

Plays naturally needed great writers to craft them, and one of the most skilled playwrights of the times was William Shakespeare. Playgoers of all kinds looked forward to “the excitement of a Will Shakespeare play.” The word excitement was a very new word in William Shakespeare’s time, and it also was used in Hamlet. No doubt its presence in one of Shakespeare’s popular plays brought it to the attention of the world and so it persisted.

Every play day a flag would be raised above the thatched roof of the Globe theatre and then people would flock to the place on foot or by boat. They paid their fees and then made their way to seats either high up in the balconies or around the stage on the floor.

The author then goes on to describe what the theatre experience was like, and we find out that the audiences weren’t always well behaved and sometimes the actors were pelted with eggs and other food items.  Actors also had to work very hard. Many of them had to play more than one part, and the men had to play the female parts because women were not allowed to be actors at that time.

Throughout the narrative the author peppers her text with words and phrases that William Shakespeare either coined or that he made popular. The words and phrases are presented in bold text, and in a side box readers will find out what they mean and where they came from. Readers will be astonished to find out that the English language owes William Shakespeare a debt of gratitude. Thanks to his plays we now talk about “household words,” and how things disappear “into thin air.”  A person who is deceased is “as dead as a doornail.”  We also regularly use words such as “amazement,” “hurrying,” and “fashionable.”

Throughout the book the text is accompanied by incredibly rich and detailed artwork that transports us into William Shakespeare’s world. Among other things, we see what London in the early 1600’s looked like, and what the Globe theatre was like inside and out. Children will have a grand time exploring the illustrations.

At the back of the book a further note from the author is followed by a timeline and a bibliography.